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Inquisitor M


Why 'Inquisitor'? Because 'Forty two': the most important lesson I ever learned. Any answer is worthless until you have the right question. Author, editor, critic, but foremost, a philosopher.

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Nov
7th
2015

Pony Psychology: Fluttershy · 1:28am Nov 7th, 2015

She's timid beyond compare and the embodiment of kindness, so how does Fluttershy have such an intimidating presence to her when she wants it?

Let’s take a look, and let’s start right at the beginning.

[WARNING: 'Tis a long 'un!]


Part I — Introduction to Fluttershy

On its own, the first time we see Fluttershy in the show might not appear to tell us an awful lot, but if we taken in the wider context of her character there is something I think is totally worth noticing. Specifically, she’s flying.

It’s not a lot, but it does show that – when she’s happy and relaxed, at least – she flies with the kind of thoughtless utility that we’d ascribe to most pegasi. Not only that, but when she moves, she twists and twirls with the kind of effortless grace we come to expect from her after Green Isn’t Your Colour. I see a lot of people talk about her as the ‘grounded’ pegasus, but I don’t really think that’s a fair assessment of her.

I think the way she flies is an expression of who she is: the lighter she feels, the more likely she is to take to the air on a whim for the sheer joy of it.

We quickly get a hint of something we can take more of an analytical eye to, however, when she addresses a bird who isn’t quite getting things right.

What I find interesting is how hard she undersells the error. She’s both hugely defensive in how she broaches the subject:

“Excuse me, sir. I mean, no offence, but, your rhythm was just a teeny, tiny bit off.”

I don’t see any grounds for writing this off as merely polite; this is clearly written to show of her hyper-sensitive side. What we can glean from this is that Fluttershy is acutely aware of how much she can upset others through words, and if there is one thing I have learned through my studies it’s that people are most easily upset by the truth.

This is a learned defense mechanism. Fluttershy is almost certainly protecting herself from the feeling that she has hurt someone else. Still, we need more information to refine such a hypothesis.

Enter Twilight Sparkle, and the ultimate question of revelation: "Who are you?"

The instant change gives us our first solid data point. Sure, the first episode quick-and-dirty character introductions are amping her character traits up to make a point, but that’s exactly why I think we can take it as Lauren’s intent for the character. Fluttershy’s graceful, happy-go-lucky demeanor vanishes the instant she is confronted with a pony that she doesn’t know.

For me, what changes here is that the focus shifts from what Fluttershy is doing to who Fluttershy is. We have only to look at how her reaction is compounded when Twilight very politely pushes the issue to get a much clearer

This is what the ‘shy’ in Fluttershy means. The spotlight of attention is like sunlight to a vampire on her. The old adage ‘the nail that sticks up gets hammered down’ springs to mind. Something about being the focus of someone else’s attention is anathema to her, and standard psychology dictates a prior event or events that have set up hard-wired assumptions in her about what will happen.

This fits perfectly with how she treats the bluejay. The defence mechanism is one of compliance and goodwill: if she does everything she can to be the nicest mare possible, no-one will have any reason to bring the kind of attention she is afraid of to bear. With the bird, however, the way Fluttershy approaches it is one of confidence through experience. There’s nothing in the way she speaks of acts that implies to me that she is actually scared of that specific interaction, which in itself implies that the wording is more like neuro linguistic programming.

Note that technically Neuro Linguistic Programming refers to the therapeutic strategies devised by Richard Bandler and John Grinder; however, as much as NLP has fallen out of favour in recent years (and probably rightly so), the concept behind it still serves as a useful diagnostic tool for reverse-engineering thought processes from language patterns – that is, understanding how people project their beliefs and biases through language use.

I in no way endorse NLP as a therapy. Beware of people who do.

In this case, that means she is fortifying the ideal of being beneath notice by being as inoffensive as possible – by word choice and demeanour with the bird she does not fear, and by diminutive stature and vocal constraint with Twilight.

It’s not clear at this early stage where that behavioural trigger comes from, but we can assume that her capacity for mature negotiation is seriously diminished because she’s assuming a defensive position without reasonable provocation. From this we can then draw the likelihood that her familial situation was not an open and communicative one where her natural need to be acknowledged was met, but we have little or no indication of why.

We can also make a base assumption that how she treats others also reflects how she would like to be treated herself. Again, this doesn’t tell us an awful lot without some idea of why she’s doing what she’s doing (and since that’s what we’re trying to figure out it would facilitate circular reasoning to base any further assumptions on it), but given that she is trying to minimise her criticism of the bluejay and she is expecting – however wrongly – some bad result from Twilight’s presence, it seems reasonable to keep our eyes open for some opinion- or criticism-based triggers.

What we really need is a counterpoint...

Well hello, Spike!

Fluttershy goes from cowering to bubbling over with enthusiasm in a blink – even going so far as to butt Twilight out of the way without seeming to notice, so impassioned is she.

Not so long ago I raised the question of how one might tell a person experiencing low anxiety and low willpower apart from another with high anxiety and high willpower. This is a perfect example of where that question gets interesting. Is Fluttershy’s shyness mild enough that it can be overpowered easily by a flood of positive energy and she just suffers because she has low willpower, or is her anxiety huge but easily shut down by competing emotions?

Well, given that her defensiveness appears to be extremely habitual, it stands to reason that her fight-or-flight response is very strong from a neurological point of view. If we’re talking human brain development, people who have experienced long-term stress environments have physically larger amygdalas (the chief, though not sole, mechanism for the fight-or-flight response) because it grows through use – like a muscle, metaphorically speaking. Dismissing Fluttershy’s shyness as ‘being a bit silly’ would be grossly unfair; it’s probably an extremely heavy burden.

But if the anxiety of meeting Twilight is a big deal, what could cause her to disregard it so quickly and completely?

Fluttershy makes it clear that she is absolutely besotted with the idea of meeting a baby dragon. Since we know generally that Fluttershy is good with animals of all kinds, I would hypothesise that truth is more along the lines that Fluttershy is comfortable with pretty much anything that isn’t a pony. Naturally things are taking on a case-by-case basis, being afraid of dragons is hardly irrational, and only looks odd by comparison to her other proclivities.

Given how Fluttershy talks to animals and yet has a hard time with even pleasant ponies, I expect that animals are ‘safe’ to her because she can understand them in a way she can’t understand ponies. She can predict them, relate to them, and negotiate with them. But ponies? Who knows what shenanigans a they might get up to.

Animals don’t lie. Any deceit on the part of an animal is a predictable pattern of behaviour that can be accounted for. I think this is also the reason that Angel Bunny is her pet, rather than just one of her animal friends: Angel can be an absolute shitbag and thus gets treated more like an unruly child.

And this is Fluttershy in her natural state. She has absolutely no sense of fear with Spike and her default is to give affection (being interested in all the details of a person’s life is a huge show of affection) while never seeming to imagine for a second that it might come back to bite her.

Summary:

Non-ponies are okay. Ponies she doesn’t know are scary as hell.

Fluttershy is probably being extra-super-duper nice because it’s really how she wants others to act towards her. This probably means she is somewhat paranoid about criticism, leading to diminished negotiation skills.

She probably has medium–high willpower because she’s suffered extensive issues with anxiety. Due to her lack of self-awareness, though, she probably needs external stimuli to be present for her to put it to use – that is, she can do, but she’s likely paralysed by choices.



Part II — The Everfree Forest

All aboard the Twilight Express!

Amidst the new group of friends, Fluttershy strolls into the Everfree with a smile on her face and her eyes closed. It would be a stretch too far, I think, to draw anything from her placement in the middle of the group, but I do think we can take the way she fits into a communal effort as noteworthy. The journey may be unpredictable, but as long as she and her friends are oriented towards the same goal she does not seem to care a jot.

Unfortunately, it isn’t long before that goes a little bit to pieces.

The moment they come across the Manticore, Fluttershy’s instincts kick into overdrive.

It takes the briefest of moments to process the wealth of emotions she is assaulted with, but...

The outcome is beyond doubt. In just a couple of seconds she knows the score. This animal is in need of assistance, not a mule-kick to the schnoz (but have an A for effort, Rarity). The problem is that Fluttershy’s little voice doesn’t carry when her friends are engaged in an unnecessary battle.

And this is the part of her characterisation that really makes me take notice. She knows that there’s no need to fight the manticore, and she even knows the manticore really isn’t enjoying the attacks by her friends, but she can’t motivate herself to intercede directly.

You’d think that assaulting an animal in need of help would elicit a faster response from Fluttershy, so what’s going on here? Well, to extend my hypothesis about her lack of negotiation, I think Fluttershy is afraid telling other ponies what to do. She’s afraid of exercising power over others. She may not have much in the way of negotiation skills, but she still prefers and safe and friendly exchange of ideas. That would fit perfectly with her preference for animal companionship. Animals can certainly employ subterfuge, but they’re generally straightforward when it comes to having their needs met – they don’t get all passive aggressive and send mixed or contradictory signals (unless they’re Angel Bunny, as discussed).

So Fluttershy can negotiate needs with an animal (or even command them in accordance with what she believes is right for them, a la Stare Master), but even her friends are a complete loss to her. They’re not actively listening to her and she won’t raise her voice or otherwise interrupt them. Again, we can take her behaviour towards others as a yardstick for what she subconsciously wants in return, which is more than likely to be listened to actively and willingly without having to make herself heard. It seems reasonable that this is in itself a inverse reflection of what she has experienced before.

I’d put my money on her being used to being talked over a lot, or otherwise having her opinions and needs (and having one’s opinions noticed is a need in and of itself) disregarded – probably through sheer ignorance, rather than malice. To use this to define the likely traits of her parents, I think we can assume that the ‘threat’ didn’t come from outside the immediate family, since she would likely have a better sense of understanding of ponies based on a shared experience. Unlike the situation with Diamond Tiara, however, I would guess that only one of her parents made her feel this way, although there is no reason to suspect that the other did anything about it and was probably also a bit of a walkover in that regard. Fluttershy doesn’t have an inherently bad opinion of ponies, she’s just scared of what they might do.

We all know how this impasse ends, of course:

Fluttershy’s lack of confidence in the ‘middle ground’ that is negotiation means she dallies in the indecision/paralysis stage until her emotions take over and the other ‘real’ Fluttershy comes out – screaming loudly.

You can’t say that Fluttershy isn’t a powerful character, but you can definitely say that she’s scared of being powerful. She doesn’t like to act in a way that forces anyone into anything, even if that’s just listening to what she has to say. That’s what the shy in Fluttershy means, and when we look back at how she met Twilight, I would suggest that she simply didn’t have the baseline from which to assume that Twilight would actually want to get to know her. Even when Twilight directly asks, Fluttershy receives the question like it’s the Spanish inquisition all over again. She’s just not used to ponies taking an active, positive interest in who she is, so any personal questions simply must have an element of danger associated with them.

Manticores, of course… well they’re easy to negotiate with.

In fact, Fluttershy’s behaviour is indicative of showing the animal that she isn’t a threat. She’s quite capable of thinking through the manticore’s point of view and acting appropriately, but she can’t do that to another pony because ponies don’t make sense to her. Ponies are weird, fickle, arbitrary creatures who don’t appear to adhere to any predictable rules.

When asked, Fluttershy says she didn’t know what was wrong with the manticore, which means she trusted only that she understood there was something driving it and was willing to believe that they could communicate easily. That situation is not so different from the previous one, where indecision muted her until her instincts took over and forced her into actions that might normally seem completely alien to her personality.

But we have to take account of the fact that Fluttershy’s lack of a ‘middle ground’ to her mindset means that we have two very distinct parts of her personality. One is happy, graceful, and thrives in empathetic and reciprocal exchanges and the other is a full-power last ditch do-whatever-it-takes mare of action. The problem is she doesn’t like the second one, even when the primary part of her isn’t working very well.

She’s indecisive. She can’t choose to be that other pony until she is absolutely sure that there is no other way.

That’s what made me realise she is actually very much like one of my other favourite characters… Gohan, from Dragonball Z. When I thought about it, they were basically the same character archetype, just in different settings.



Part Three — Power is a State of Mind

Ever since Gohan was introduced into Dragonball Z as the lead character’s son, he had flashes of extreme power whenever he was backed into a corner. These flashes of immense rage and ki were completely out of his conscious control, and much of the rest of the time he was constantly terrified of what was happening around him (he was 4 when this all kicked off; he was absolutely right to be terrified!).

At the culmination of kid Gohan’s story arc, he trains with his father, Goku, for a year. During the training he knows that his father needs to push past his limitations and force him to become stronger. Only a genuine risk to life and limb would turn him into a warrior that could fight to save the earth shoulder-to-shoulder with his friends and family. And it worked. Even when pushed to breaking point, Gohan always managed to find that extra reserve of power to get up and keep training, long after Goku was already knackered.

But that power came with a price.

Gohan is naturally a life-loving pacifist. He only fights to protect those he cares about, but under his father’s tutelage he feels safe to reveal the tip of the iceberg that is his full power and bring out the monster within. That monster will hurt people if it has to, and it will enjoy doing it.

But Gohan knows that he must, so he digs deep again and again until he finally surpasses even his father in power, but as the dutiful son who idolises his father, it never occurs to his that he has gotten so powerful.

When the time finally comes and Goku cannot protect the earth, he steps aside and lets his son fight, confident that he has taught Gohan everything he’ll need to win. Except Goku was wrong: Goku taught him what Goku would need in his place, but Gohan cannot choose to unleash his full potential. Outside of training with his father, Gohan cannot willingly let the monster awaken because it would be anathema to everything he stands for as a person.

Luckily, his opponent, Cell, tortures his friends to bring out this monster because he wants to see it for himself. Super-powerful villains are prone to that sort of thing.

Lo and behold, Gohan eventually snaps.

I feel it slipping.

But as always, the devil is in the detail. It isn’t a matter of succumbing to his rage, as Goku might. It was succumbing to his pain. As long as Gohan was resisting the intense pain caused by seeing his friends tortured, his rage wasn’t enough, and he couldn’t choose to cross over that line. He could not let go.

But once one of his friends had died, Gohan immediately blamed himself. It was his fault – his inaction. That sting of self-recrimination struck deeper that anything that had been done to him from the outside. That’s what caused him to snap, and once that valve was open, rent asunder by a moment of self-hatred, Gohan’s anger flowed like the sun itself.

And I won’t watch this any more!

After Gohan transforms, he has tears streaming from his eyes.

"…"

But the crying had already stopped. All that is left is a dead-eyed monster that took pleasure in breaking his enemy’s will as well as his body. He wanted his enemy to suffer.

“I can never forgive you for what you’ve done.”

Doing so ended up costing him his father’s life (again), but to be honest, that never meant all that much in the Dragonball world anyway…

The point is that the depth of Gohan’s power wasn’t just a massive spike of ki, a giant light-show, and a physical transformation, the true essence of Gohan’s hidden power was agency. He gained to ability to act with precision and confidence, unburdened by such petty hindrances as conscience or doubt. Gohan’s transformation was as much of personality as of body – from Dr Jekyll to Mr Hyde.

It’s my favourite moment in anime and it parallels wonderfully with this:

The Monster Awakens

See, Fluttershy depends on that safe, predictable relationship she has with her animal friends. She’s so utterly confident that she’s going to make friends with the animals at the gala that she doesn’t think to protect herself from the possibility of getting hurt. She chose to be the nail that stood up, and she did get hammered down.

Noting what I said earlier about her likely paranoia about being sensitive to criticism...

“You’re going to love me!

Fluttershy’s refusal to wilfully impose on even her friends’ goodwill is almost certainly because she refuses to be that which she has been hurt by in the past. Since it seems to affect her just as much when trying to cheer for Rainbow Dash during the Best Young Fliers competition as it does with stopping her friends from attacking the mantore, I would suggest that she is deeply afraid of letting her passions drive her, because too much passion means someone else getting brushed aside in the process.

Paradoxically, of course, she absolutely loves it when her friends embrace their own passions, even if she gets a little brushed aside in the process. This is also a defence mechanism. Fluttershy can choose to be brushed aside to let one of her friends be happy because that means she never has to feel left behind or trivialised (like in Rarity Takes Manehattan).

Equally, she can’t tell Rarity that she doesn’t want to be a catwalk model in Green Isn’t Your Colour because putting herself first would mean being the very thing that actively scares hurts her. She’d rather choose to come second that force her preference on someone else.

But when she went to Canterlot Gardens she had made a choice. She had decided ahead of time that things were going to be wonderful – she needed it to come true. After embracing the need as real and true, she couldn’t turn it off and the sting of rejection became rage, which in turn unbottled the monster that she could not control.

And then, of course, there’s the direct correlation to The Hulk.

“I’m trying!”

She can’t choose to get mad, even though there is plenty to be mad about. That whole way of being is anathema to her.

"Are you okay?"

But the moment she’s acting on someone else’s behalf…

Yeah. That'll do it.

Fluttershy may not be inclined to stand up for herself, but she’s perfectly capable of standing up for others when she is needed, because that’s not her projecting her needs; that’s preventing others’ needs from being trampled on.

It’s hard to imagine Fluttershy not being there for her friends when push comes to shove. The more dangerous the situation, the more chance she’ll face it head on, but what most ponies see is her indecision when faced with smaller issues that affect only her. In those cases, it’s just easier to take the path of least resistance.

Fluttershy is a team player because she just doesn’t think she’s important enough to interrupt anyone else’s life for, but sometimes she can summon up the self-esteem to think that her friends would actually want to help her.

Sometimes....



Part Four — Putting Your Hoof Down

It seems to me that this episode is by far the most direct in terms of exploring the interactions of Fluttershy’s various drives, but does it hold up next to the character I’ve presented here?

I think it does.

I can absolutely see the groupthink effect pushing her to internalise the idea that it’s actually okay to get pushy, and more importantly she has a pretty good idea of what it looks like and she has the deep rooted anger at being walked over before to pull it off.

It shows that her ostensibly friendly demeanour is as much of a self defense mechanism as it is genuine, demonstrated by her change in attitude towards to postman. It also supports the idea that Fluttershy is missing the ‘middle ground’ on the scale of personal interactions. Rather than adapt her normal behaviour, she takes on this whole new persona that quickly amps things up to extreme levels when given a sense of permission to do so. And when she realises how it’s affecting other ponies and not actually getting her what she really wants, it all blows away as quickly as it came.

So is Fluttershy the embodiment of kindness? Well, no. Not really. She is very kind and gentle, but it’s frequently self-serving and not actually to the advantage of those she wishes to be kind to. She can’t educate others on how she would like to be treated or correct them if they mistreat her. She has trouble correcting them if they do something wrong, because that would mean crossing that personal boundary and infringing upon them.

All in all, Fluttershy is afraid of her own agency because something trampled all over hers at some point, and she can’t be the thing she detests. That’s what puts the shy in Fluttershy; she just can’t choose to do it. But when she moves past the choice and is driven by need, there is a deep reservoir of passion hidden beneath her gentle exterior.



-Scott ‘Inquisitor’ Mence

The circle of life.

Otherwise known as breakfast time.

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Comments ( 11 )

Great post.

Too tired to form a full reply right now.

I've got an aversion to Dragonball, so the middle threw me off a bit, but that's hardly indicative of the quality of this post.
This was a very good read.

Interesting analysis. I like this.

One thing I felt as I was reading, though, is that Fluttershy's behavior isn't necessarily based in environmental influence. There would certainly be some of that, but the core of it could simply be how she's wired. Just observing children (and pets and other animals) at a very young age, you can see the queues and shapes of behavioral traits that will later be a part of their childhood and adult nature, including shyness and introversion. We only start from a blank slate in the sense of experience, but every brain is different.

In my experience, it's easy for others to immediately dismiss shy people as having nothing of value to add to their lives, so someone predisposed to the behavioral traits Fluttershy possesses absolutely might experience further degradation in her family setting, or at least she'd be stuck in neutral and not develop, much. And then someone like Rainbow Dash comes along – someone who sees the value of that person, even though they seem so much different – and helps build her strength through that expression of their friendship.

Over time she could learn to over-ride that 'programming' she was born with, but it would always be there to some degree. Under the right circumstances, she would learn that she has value outside of others' judgements of her, which is where I think part of Fluttershy's strength comes from later in the show, as it seems to be doing.

So, can we look forward to more character analyses like this? :yay:

I love reading your blogs – you always pick up on stuff I'd never notice and interpret it in ways I'm unfamiliar with. Your insights are a thrill to read! I especially liked the comparison with Gohan, they are totally same character archetype in different settings. Funny thing is, I never paid much attention to Gohan when I seen DBZ back when I was a kid since every other major character was such a scene stealer. You've given me new-found appreciation :scootangel:

Scrolling down halfway through this to start my comment (before I finish reading and forget what I wanted to type), I see pony pictures and then DBZ cell games battle pictures, then pony pictures – I lose it :rainbowlaugh:

But ponies? Who knows what shenanigans a they might get up to. Animals don’t lie. Any deceit on the part of an animal is a predictable pattern of behaviour that can be accounted for.

The material of the part 1 and part 2 of your analysis is of the series premiere, which Faust mostly in control of since it was all her vision at the time. Take this with the following part (43:23 in, about 1 min) of an interview with John De Lancie. So FiM is a show (and the universe therein) that has very little subtext as least early on, while Lauren was in the cockpit. I'd like to clarify this a bit further and say that early on in the show, at least for first season, ponies speak with no subtext. Angel, Spike and Gilda are all non-ponies and are likely to be deceitful, sarcastic, and use subtext with good intentions or not.

So I can't agree with that particular bit on Fluttershy's psychology foundations. For shy folks IRL it works cause people are as you describe here, but it doesn't work for FS since ponies just aren't like that under Faust's writing. However, I can totally see that her character was then, almost impossibly designed with that damage.

To use this to define the likely traits of her parents, I think we can assume that the ‘threat’ didn’t come from outside the immediate family, since she would likely have a better sense of understanding of ponies based on a shared experience.

You may very well like bookplayer's Of Cottages and Cloud Houses then!

Cause why not

Fluttershy is acutely aware of how much she can upset others through words

This is a learned defense mechanism. Fluttershy is almost certainly protecting herself from the feeling that she has hurt someone else.

And, in parallel, doing her best not to hurt someone. In this case they effectively amount to the same thing. This is, however, slightly different from it as a defence mechanism to avoid attention (as you mentioned later). I'm not saying she doesn't do that too (because she does) , but I want it noted that I think she has multiple reasons for being kind, and avoiding causing/having caused pain is one such reason.

She’s quite capable of thinking through the manticore’s point of view and acting appropriately, but she can’t do that to another pony because ponies don’t make sense to her. Ponies are weird, fickle, arbitrary creatures who don’t appear to adhere to any predictable rules.

She understands animals. She really doesn't understand ponies.
That's probably the most novel and interesting insight I got out of this post. I'd never really considered what it would be like not to spend hours trying to figure out why people do what they do, and then having that, and the ideas about human nature it provides, to draw on when understanding people in the future. I imagine it could make some human behaviour seem really strange, or even downright sadistic.

She probably has medium–high willpower because she’s suffered extensive issues with anxiety. Due to her lack of self-awareness, though, she probably needs external stimuli to be present for her to put it to use – that is, she can do, but she’s likely paralysed by choices.

Cool insight. I don't think I would have caught that.

Fluttershy is probably being extra-super-duper nice because it’s really how she wants others to act towards her.

Yes, and I'd take it a step further. I expect she spent a long time desperately wishing more kindness was shown to her, and that the long-standing strongly-felt desire caused her to start viewing/experiencing kindness as this fantastic, desirable, and positive thing. It became a value of hers, and is now an emotionally evocative good thing from her perspective even when abstracted from her needs. Not that it's often abstracted from her needs, as she probably feels love through providing kindness (to her animals, as ponies make no sense) and pride in herself for being what she considers good.

Fluttershy’s lack of confidence in the ‘middle ground’ that is negotiation means she dallies in the indecision/paralysis stage until her emotions take over and the other ‘real’ Fluttershy comes out – screaming loudly.

You can’t say that Fluttershy isn’t a powerful character, but you can definitely say that she’s scared of being powerful. She doesn’t like to act in a way that forces anyone into anything, even if that’s just listening to what she has to say. That’s what the shy in Fluttershy means, and when we look back at how she met Twilight, I would suggest that she simply didn’t have the baseline from which to assume that Twilight would actually want to get to know her. Even when Twilight directly asks, Fluttershy receives the question like it’s the Spanish inquisition all over again. She’s just not used to ponies taking an active, positive interest in who she is, so any personal questions simply must have an element of danger associated with them.

I really struggle to call that 'indecision', even if it's just a semantic issue. Fluttershy's not making a conscious decision, and what she's going to 'choose' is really clear and consistent anyway. She values kindness. She hates unnecessary harm. She believes that any exertion of her own will onto a pony causes harm. For her to exert her will onto another pony, she has to believe it is the only way to prevent greater harm being done, and in such a case she will do just that. She will not do so otherwise, nor will she enjoy having done so, as she believes that by doing so she is causing harm, the very thing she stands against. And she hates that; she just hates allowing greater harm more.

She may feel conflicted, but her path was clear: Ponies are attacking a manticore. This causes harm, is unnecessary, is bad, and must stop. Imposing my will on the ponies would be bad, and should be avoided, but stopping the fight is more important. Can I stop the fight without forcing my will on the ponies? Maybe. A 'maybe' is not a 'no'; attempt it. Attempted, and it failed. Damn, this next part is going to hurt. Nonetheless, intervene, imposing your will on the ponies as necessary. Did so. Ok, now stop imposing your will on the ponies until further notice.
She was never going to intervene if ending the fight while not imposing her will seemed to be a possibility, and she was never going to let the fight continue, even if that meant imposing her will. Any decision she faced had been decided well before the 'indecision' part.

Also, I think it's a stretch to base her interaction with Twilight on a fear of imposing upon another pony. There very well could be an aspect of that, but I'd say her genuine fear of attention, and learned assumptions about what attention means, were more responsible for how she acted then.

I... didn't really get the Dragonball Z parallel, but then I haven't watched Dragonball Z.
I mean, I get that they were both instances of a character behaving quite differently from how they normally do, and that both were triggered by pain that the respective characters experienced, but that's all. I wouldn't buy that someone just has an alternative way of thinking/feeling/behaving that they express under certain circumstances; there has to be a reason for it, and I feel that the reason is the important part. Given that I haven't watched Dragonball Z, I have no idea what the reason for Gohan's alter-ego might be.

But Fluttershy's?
I'd like to bring her self-esteem up again here. People need that; people need to feel important or worthwhile. They'll find a way to feel that if at all possible.
Fluttershy has very low self-esteem. Further, she believes that imposing her will upon other ponies causes harm, and she would hate to cause harm. However, by avoiding all cases where her own opinions and desires could be recognised by another pony, she is systematically denying herself any semblance of worth from her interactions with ponies. She does, however, have one source of worth: she is kind. To her, kindness is a value. Kindness is good. And she, by being kind, is also good, and thus worth something.

Paradoxically, of course, she absolutely loves it when her friends embrace their own passions, even if she gets a little brushed aside in the process. This is also a defence mechanism. Fluttershy can choose to be brushed aside to let one of her friends be happy because that means she never has to feel left behind or trivialised (like in Rarity Takes Manehattan).

This is true, but it goes further than that. Ironically, being the one who is willing to be brushed aside for her friends' happiness is what makes her feel worthwhile, insofar as she does feel worthwhile at all.

Mean Fluttershy is what happens when that is taken away from her.

I posit that Fluttershy has a pent-up desire to be powerful, respected, taken seriously ,and other such importance-indicating things, borne of her low self-esteem, compounded by her constant disregard for her own opinions and feelings for others' sake, repressed by her fear of causing harm by asserting herself, and mollified by her pride in being kind.
Take away the pride in being kind, such as by the animals she hopes to be kind to fleeing her, or by groupthink disapproving of what she considers to be kindness , and this pent-up desire starts building tension in her. It becomes visible the next outlet it receives.

At the Gala she was trying to help animals, and she believes she understands animals well enough to know that what she wanted was also what was best from them. She felt hurt that she was being denied the affection she wanted. She felt anger to cover that pain because the cause was obviously the animals, as they would have loved her had they given her a chance. Anger is an empowering emotion. And that provided a way of feeling important even when the animals continued to flee.

In Putting Your Hoof Down, she was already questioning her pride in being kind as a result of the groupthink. She doesn't understand ponies well enough to know when they need kindness and when an imposition of her opinions or desires will cause harm. In fact, she believes any imposition of her opinions or desires on others will cause harm, but the groupthink obviously disagrees, and then her trainer had some awful advice on what assertiveness was. But Fluttershy embraced it quite readily. I think that, absent her pride in showing the kindness she values, she turned to using the new power she felt over ponies to make herself feel important, and that this is what pushed her past simply demanding her way and into belittling others, like her friends, just to justify and validate herself. You know, bully behaviour.

I also think that an event like the above is guaranteed to come to an end in time. Fluttershy is acting like that because she's caught up in the feeling of powerfulness and importance that she's craved, but she still values kindness. Sooner or later she's going to be hit by the pain she's causing, the pain her entire character has been about avoiding (both avoiding causing and avoiding experiencing). This will reaffirm her belief that imposing her opinions or desires on others causes harm, and she will turn back to pride in niceness to feel better about herself (assuming she doesn't hate herself too much over the pain she now sees she caused).

On that note, the lesson at the end of Putting Your Hoof Down is shocking, not in and of itself, but to say that Fluttershy learned it. To understand how to be assertive without causing harm would completely rewrite her character:

It would imply an improved understanding of ponies.
That understanding may lessen her fear of social interactions.
It may result in her seeing that the kindness she tries to offer is not always effective or necessary to the pony she's trying to be kind to, and instead focus it on where it's really needed.

It would allow her to provide her own opinions and desires when interacting with others.
And that would allow her to receive validation of her opinions and desires from her friends.
Which would begin to improve her self-esteem, and to remove the tension from being trampled over that has made her snap to 'mean-mode' before.
And it would allow her to negotiate better, rather than waiting until a situation was truly intolerable before she took any sort of control.

If even half of that happened, would she still be Fluttershy? She would still value kindness, and her self-esteem and understanding of ponies wouldn't become perfect overnight, but still.
Do you think she actually learned that lesson?
Or are the show staff written into a corner, unable to let Fluttershy overcome her most obvious weakness for the sheer implications to her character that brings?

And finally,

It shows that her ostensibly friendly demeanour is as much of a self defense mechanism as it is genuine

So is Fluttershy the embodiment of kindness? Well, no. Not really. She is very kind and gentle, but it’s frequently self-serving and not actually to the advantage of those she wishes to be kind to.

I don't buy this. Yes, she uses her kindness to protect herself from attracting others' notice. No, I don't think it's fair to say that's why she's kind. I think she's kind because she's seen/felt the effects of a lack of kindness too much and, on some level, wants to be the thing she feels she's missing. Yes, she feels happy with herself for being kind. I wouldn't call that self-serving. Technically it is, but if you count "helps someone else because it makes her feel good" as selfish, I think you will be hard-pressed to find a single example of a truly selfless act in all of humanity. The fact that her kindness is often not to the advantage to those she's being kind to is a result of her not understanding ponies, not of her not being kind. To an sizeable extent, I think she could be called "the embodiment of kindness."

tl,dr: Fluttershy is kind, dammit! Also, she doesn't get ponies. Who knew?

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I'd like to clarify this a bit further and say that early on in the show, at least for first season, ponies speak with no subtext.

Depends whether you're talking consciously or not. All the characters speak with some subtext, but rarely are they consciously trying to be duplicitous. Where the line is drawn is important.

Angel, Spike and Gilda are all non-ponies and are likely to be deceitful, sarcastic, and use subtext with good intentions or not.

Yeah, but the issue is whether Fluttershy has any experience of those things. We can draw a hard line under her knowledge of ponies and their behaviour, but everything else is up in the air.

At a guess, I'd wager that she finds no threat in Angel's behaviour because she can still understand him when he's being deceitful. We could even go as far as to say that Fluttershy has enough empathy to understand ponies just fine, but she's running under the assumption that she doesn't understand them, or she just have any belief that she could do anything about it if she did.

So it's not about that is and isn't deceitful, but what Fluttershy expects to be deceitful and how much potential there is for that to hurt her.

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No doubt consciously.

Faust said in an interview that she based Fluttershy's character on of herself when she was around 7 or 8 (I forgot which interview, so I don't have a link). So then:

Yeah, but the issue is whether Fluttershy has any experience of those things.

Probably not. I'm no child psychologist, but shy kids generally are so because they are just afraid of the unfamiliar and not because they've had some bad dealings with adults. So then, I'd venture that the shyness is caused by lack of social experience carrying over into her (presumed) young adulthood.

We could even go as far as to say that Fluttershy has enough empathy to understand ponies just fine

But does she have enough experience/knowledge? Nah

So it's not about that is and isn't deceitful, but what Fluttershy expects to be deceitful and how much potential there is for that to hurt her.

I don't go with the trauma victim explanation due to the Word of God discussed. In the beginning of the show, her shyness was mostly due to her just not knowing what to say or talk about with ponies. Once she seen Spike, she had something to talk about, some middle ground for conversation.

So do you think that each of the Mane 6 has or had some block in their element? That is, rather than being avatars of generosity etc., each one could be, but has (or had, at the start of the show) something blocking them from being that avatar.

3530321 Not as such. What I would suggest is that we have no actual reason to suppose that the elements are what we're told they are. There are six magical McGuffins and six ponies that wielded them, but the relationships between McGuffin and weilder are just place-holder names – even word-of-god has admitted that. Kindness is what people might see in Fluttershy, but that doesn't mean that it's what powers the element.

For example, Fluttershy's element (assuming that they're even unique to start with) could be that of restraint or consideration. She the one that wouldn't act against something unless she truly thought it was unredeemable. You could call that kindness, but that's a pretty washy generalisation, just as loyalty is pretty questionable as a virtue until you assume it's a vague stand-in for something more meaningful, like the predilection to view relationships in an abstract rather than an immediate manner.

But in the end, as I stated in A Certain Point of View, I think that each of the characters can't live without their respective element. They're not avatars of it; they're victims of a lack of it, which is why each of them holds it so dear.

Still, here we all are. Luna’s looking better, Cadence is blissfully happy, Celestia is… well, I’d say she’s still commanding an army of zombie ponies fawning over her every whim, but that’s just me. Look at what it’s done to Twilight. She ran afoul of her parents rather high expectations to begin with, and being around Celestia drove her to be more neurotic than ever. That’s why Celestia keeps her at a distance; Twilight needs to start taking her strength from her friends in order to undo the damage my oh-so-well-intentioned sister has wrought upon her. Not just any friends, of course, very particular, very carefully selected friends.
That’s my hoof at work, by the way. Twilight’s friends are all as broken and neurotic as she is. They may have used the Elements of Harmony, but that doesn’t mean what you may think it does. Applejack is not the Element of Honesty because she’s honest; it’s because she is burdened by the fear of what being dishonest might mean. She was lied to, a lot, and now she can’t stand to lie to others, but she does anyway. Rarity gives time and energy to her friends because she craves attention. Rainbow Dash wouldn’t know real loyalty if it bit her flank, but she is consumed by the need to validate herself, and so needs to be seen to support her friends. Fluttershy was mistreated, and the idea of mistreating any living thing in turn terrifies her, so she simply can’t do it, and Pinkie Pie is so scared of being alone that she can’t stand to see another pony feeling anything less than loved and happy and special.
They’re all running from their deepest fears, and that brings them together in a way that nothing else, even Celestia, ever could. They all need, so they all feel needed in return. How else would you find six young mares that could bond together strongly enough to wield the Elements of Harmony and free Luna? Let me simply say this: Celestia was not pleased when I caused Rainbow Dash’s sonic rainboom to alter the flow of events and bring these ponies together. You might find it easiest to think of it as seeing the future, but it really isn’t. It’s more of an instinct for possible outcomes, and it’s hardly a science, much to Twilight’s irritation.

—A Certain Point of View, by Inquisitor M

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But in the end, as I stated in A Certain Point of View, I think that each of the characters can't live without their respective element. They're not avatars of it; they're victims of a lack of it, which is why each of them holds it so dear.

Now that's interesting.

What an insightful analysis! You raise some great points.

Fluttershy having that much willpower is one of the things that bother me about her character – enough that she is probably my least favourite of the Mane 6. In a sense, it makes her seem selfish, particularly when she is shown as able to do something, but doesn't because it doesn't fir with her main interests, despite whatever is happening to her friends.

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